The Twenty-Seventh Annual Chicago Jazz Festival

 Article and photos by Jimmie Jones

The Twenty-Seventh Annual Chicago Jazz Festival was again held on Labor Day weekend. As always, the festival was programmed by the Jazz Institute of Chicago and produced by the mayor's office of Special Events.

This year, die-hard Jazz fans were able to catch special events for seven consecutive days starting on Monday evening, August 29 at Millennium Park with a free concert by Orbert Davis's Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra. Davis collaborated with musicians from the Association for the Advancement for Creative Musicians (AACM), in celebration of the AACM's fortieth anniversary.

On Tuesday evening, August 30, a Tribute to Brother Ray was held at the Merle Reskin Theater with an all-star musicians' reunion of Ray Charles's band members including Hank Crawford, David "Fathead" Newman, Marcus Belgraves, Leroy Cooper, Philip Upchurch, former Raylette Cynthia Scott, and others.

The first musical event I caught Labor Day weekend was a free duo performance by pianist Eddie Palmieri and trumpeter Brian Lynch before a standing-room and floor-sitting crowd at the Chicago Cultural Center late Thursday afternoon. Palmieri occasionally performed Jazz standards such as Monk's compositions, but for this concert, he only played Latin American tunes, mostly his compositions.

The festival actually began later Thursday evening with a Downbeat seventieth anniversary concert at the Symphony Center with a solo set by pianist John Medeski followed by Louis Hayes and the Cannonball Adderley Tribute Band and finally the Zawinul Syndicate.

Thursday evening after the festival, I made it to Fred Anderson's Velvet Lounge to catch two sets by a quartet led by drummer Vincent Davis featuring tenor saxophonist Edward Wilkerson, Guitarist Scott Hassie, and bassist Darius Savage. The first set featured outstanding solos by the veteran AACM musicians Wilkerson and the little-known Hassie, who plays straight-ahead and outside Jazz equally well.

A big surprise for the second set was the many highly talented Chicago musicians who came to sit in. Trumpeter Maurice Brown, who lost everything he owned to Hurricane Katrina in his New Orleans home, took over the second set. After leading the group on a Miles Davis blues tune with Edwards and Hassie, Maurice featured himself on Errol Garner's "Misty," showing how a twenty-three-year-old youngster can play a ballad. Among the musicians sitting in on the second set were trumpeter Corey Wilkes, drummer Isaiah Spensor, and a highly talented bass guitarist with lots of chops whose name I didn't get.

The first set on the Jazz and Heritage Stage in Grant Park early Friday afternoon showed off some of the students of the AACM School of Music under the direction of Ann Ward. Afterwards, I rushed over to the Jackson Stage to catch AACM's Hanah Jon Taylor perform a set on soprano and tenor saxophones and flute backed by a pianist, bassist, and drummer. Hanah's set was followed on the Jackson Stage by a trio, led by another of Chicago's many great bass players, Larry Gray.

The final set on the Jackson Stage on Friday was Slide Hampton and the Trombone Choir backed by a Chicago rhythm section. In addition to Slide, the Choir consisted of five of Chicago's top trombone players: Steve Berry, Audry Morrison, Tim Coffman, Tracey Kirb, and John Blanes. Among the tunes performed, several were related to Miles Davis, several were Slide Hampton compositions, and J. J. Johnson's best-known composition "Lament" was dedicated to the late legendary trombonist. All of the five Chicago trombonists played well but they were completely overshadowed by Slide!

 Buster Williams

Pianist Denny Zeitlin opened up the Petrillo Music Shell Friday with one of the most sought after bass players and drummers in Buster Williams's band, Matt Wilson. To get an idea what a dazzling set this was, one should check out Zeitlin's 2004 CD Slick Rock on the Maxjazz label recorded with Buster and Matt.

I feel extremely fortunate to have been able to catch live on the Petrillo stage one of the most neglected legendary Jazz singers, Gloria Lynne, who will be celebrating her seventy-fourth birthday on November 23. Gloria sang one song after another, many of them hits from the fifties and sixties, with that bluesy, soul style she is known for.

Roy Haynes's eightieth birthday celebration was the headline at the Petrillo Music Shell. No musician has ever worked regularly as a sideman with as many Jazz legends as Roy, who performed on drums with bands led by Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Sarah Vaughn, and John Coltrane. Roy showed how he keeps young by working with youngsters in their twenties including Marcus Stickland on saxophones, Martin Bejerano on piano, and John Sullivan on bass.

Douglas Ewart and Inventions performed two great sets at the Velvet Lounge after the fest on Friday. Inventions includes Ewart, Mwata Bowden, and Edward Wilkerson on reeds; Dee Alexander on vocals; Mankwe Ndosi on vocals and poetry; Duriel Harris on recitations; Darius Savage on bass; and Dushun Mosley on drums. Douglas got his Inventions off in the right direction on the first tune of the first set with his composition "Mars Blues" featuring star vocalist Dee Alexander.

The opening set on the Jackson Stage Saturday at noon was The Frontburners, a tribute to the late AACM tenor saxophonist, Vandy Harris. Among the musicians performing on the Jackson Stage were many who were part of Vandy's original Frontburners such as Robert Griffin on trumpet, Ken Chaney on piano, Yosef Ben Israel on bass, Dushon Mosley on drums, Art "Turk" Burton on percussion, and Taalib Din Zayid on vocals. Tenor saxophonist Ari Brown and alto saxophonist Ernest Dawkins were special guests.

The closer on the Jackson Stage Saturday was a New Apartment Jam with Von Freeman and John Young. The set was in honor of eighty-three-year-old Chicago tenor saxophonist legend Von Freeman who for years had been giving young musicians a chance to play and learn Jazz at the jam sessions Von holds every Tuesday evening at the Apartment Lounge in Southside Chicago.

Von's rhythm section included his sidekick for longer than I can remember, pianist John Young who is also eighty-three years old, guitarist Mike Allemana, bassist Matt Ferguson, and drummer Michael Raynor. Performing also were students of Von, the sensational eighteen-year-old trumpeter Marquis Hill and trombonist Norman Palm.

The opening set at the Petrillo Music Shell on Saturday was a tribute for Chicago's eighty-five-year-old tenor saxophonist Eddie Johnson by a quartet led by tenor saxophonist Eric Schneider who performed with Johnson many times at Chicago's Andy's Jazz Club.

One of the finest sets I've ever caught at the twenty-four Chicago Jazz festivals that I've attended was performed by AACM's Great Black Music Ensemble under the direction of Mwata Bowden. Four elder AACM members, saxophonists Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman, violinist Leroy Jenkins, and trombonist Lester Lashlie performed as special guests.

The Ensemble performed compositions by Mwata Bowden, Douglas Ewart, and Nicole Mitchell. After the Great Black Music Ensemble set, I was so bored with the Petrillo headliner (a set entitled "Celebrating Tony Williams" performed by John Scofield on guitar, Larry Golding on keyboards, and Jack DeJohnette on drums) that after two numbers I left Grant Park and headed for the Hot House.

I arrived at the Hot House in time to catch the Eight Bold Souls, a group of musicians that tenor saxophonist Edward Wilkerson has kept together for over twenty years. I was surprised to find saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell performing as special guest. I stayed at the Hot House long enough to catch one song by the New Horizon Ensemble consisting of saxophonist and leader Ernest Dawkins, trumpeter Maurice Brown, trombonist Steve Berry, bassist Darius Savage, and drummer Isaiah Spensor. The six special guests were an even bigger surprise: Roscoe Mitchell, Ari Brown, an unidentified musician on saxophones, Dee Alexander and Taalib Din Zayid on vocals, and a second bassist, unidentified.

Leaving the Hot House, I arrived at the Velvet Lounge in time to catch the last hour of the second and closing set, a jam session. Among the performing musicians I recognized were Fred Anderson and Bill Perry on tenor saxophones, Arthur Taylor on alto saxophone, Douglas Ewart on soprano saxophone, Malachi Thompson and Bill Brimfield on trumpets, Harrison Bankhead on bass, and Hamid Drake on drums.

Sunday on the Jackson Stage, Detroit legend tenor saxophonist Wendel Harrison performed with an outstanding Chicago rhythm section consisting of Scott Hassis on guitar, Darius Savage on bass, and Isaiah Spensor on drums. Wendel Harrison was followed on the Jackson Stage by vocalist Bobbie Wilsyn and her band, entitled She, an all-female sextet.

 Wendel Harrison

Sunday on the Jackson Stage, Detroit legend tenor saxophonist Wendel Harrison performed with an outstanding Chicago rhythm section consisting of Scott Hassis on guitar, Darius Savage on bass, and Isaiah Spensor on drums. Wendel Harrison was followed on the Jackson Stage by vocalist Bobbie Wilsyn and her band, entitled She, an all-female sextet.

 Leroy Jenkins and Jessica Jones

The first group I caught at the Petrillo Music Shell Sunday was the Joseph Jarman sextet featuring Jarman on alto saxophone, flute, and vocals; Leroy Jenkins on violin; Jessica Jones on tenor saxophone and flute; Tatso Aoki on bass; Dushon Mosley on drums and G' Ra (George Hines) on poetry. Jarman, a founding member of the AACM and Art ensemble of Chicago featured himself, Jenkins, Jones, and G' Ra through out the set.

Following Joseph Jarman was a set by the Chicago Jazz Ensemble with artistic director Jon Faddis and featuring Slide Hampton and his big-band music. Hampton has long been noted for his compositions and arrangements in addition to his trombone playing and recordings he made as far back as the fifties. The set featured solos by Hampton and Jon Faddis and Art Hoyle on trumpet.

The final set of the festival was Jamming for Bird, celebrating Charlie Parker's eighty-fifth birthday (August 29) featuring three alto saxophonists specifically selected for this set because of the Charlie Parker influence in their playing. They included Charles McPherson with his quartet, Donald Harrison, and Frank Morgan.

The set opened up with an up-tempo "Anthropology" featuring long solos by each of the saxophonists. On the second tune "Now's the Time," Frank Morgan stole the show by starting his solo playing Parker's solo on the original recording of Now's the Time! Other tunes performed, all related to Charlie Parker, were "Scrapple from the Apple," "Out of Nowhere," and "Confirmation.

Frank Morgan 
 Maurice Brown

Immediately after the festival I headed for the Velvet Lounge. The first set was performed by Fred Anderson, Maurice Brown, Harrison Bankhead, and Hamid Drake. The second set consisted of the annual jam session with many youngsters and some elder musicians lined up to play.

A highlight for me was the way poet/singer Mankwe Ndosi (from Douglas Ewart's Inventions group) sat before the microphone holding an open book of poems on Fred Anderson, Velvet Bebop Kente Cloth (Third World Press) by Dr. Sterling Plumpp and spontaneously read and sang from off the pages. He was backed by bassist Harrison Bankhead and drummer Hamid Drake.

Among the musicians sitting-in whom I was able to identify were alto saxophonist Ernest Dawkins, tenor saxophonist Aaron Getsog, bassist Cecile Savage. Drummer Isaiah Spensor finally played at the tail-end of the set. Festival star alto saxophonist Donald Harrison proved that he could play spontaneous outside Jazz as well as straight-ahead Jazz.

New Orleans tenor saxophone legend Edward "Kidd" Jordan missed making Fred Anderson's After the Fest Jam at the Velvet Lounge for the first time in over ten years. He had lost his home where he raised a large family. Kidd's son, trumpeter Marlin Jordan, sat on the roof of his home for five days before being picked up.

By Jimmie Jones

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